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Squirrels, with their playful antics, are charming to watch but can become a serious nuisance in your garden. They not only nibble on plants and uproot lawns while searching for acorns, but they also have an affinity for ripe tomatoes. Yes, that’s right, squirrels love tomatoes as much as we do.

So, if you’ve ever found a tiny bite taken out of your homegrown tomatoes, chances are a squirrel is to blame. Squirrels have no qualms about invading your garden and digging up newly planted seedlings. This can, however, be quite frustrating to home gardeners.

To help you manage squirrels and protect your tomato plants this growing season, here are 16 ways to outsmart and deter them.

Why Do Squirrels Eat Tomatoes?

Squirrels often nibble on tomatoes, but their reasons might surprise you. Here’s what drives them to target your garden’s tomatoes:

  • Hunger and Hydration: Tomatoes are mostly water, which appeals to squirrels. Often, a squirrel might take just one bite to quench its thirst rather than to feast on the tomato.
  • Ripeness: Squirrels prefer easy meals, and ripe tomatoes, with their soft texture and higher sugar content, fit the bill perfectly. Unripe, green tomatoes, on the other hand, are less attractive due to their hard texture and bitter taste.
  • Color and Smell: The bright red and sweet smell of ripe tomatoes are strong attractors for squirrels, signaling a nutritious and delicious treat.
  • When natural food sources are scarce, squirrels may encroach more into human areas, searching for food, leading them to explore and eat garden tomatoes.
  • Once a squirrel finds tomatoes in one garden, it will likely return and might even spread the word to other squirrels. This learned behavior can result in more frequent visits and damage to your tomato plants.

Companion Planting

Container vegetables gardening. Vegetable garden on a terrace. Herbs, tomatoes growing in container .
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Incorporating certain plants into your tomato garden can help repel squirrels due to their strong scents and taste. Effective squirrel-deterring companions include Nasturtiums, geraniums, mint, marigolds, and garlic.

For gardens near woodland areas or known squirrel habitats, it’s beneficial to plant these companions along the borders to create a natural barrier. If you’re growing tomatoes in pots, mix these repellent plants into the same containers. To ensure the effectiveness of these plants, maintain them with regular pruning and watering, which helps intensify their scents and protect your tomatoes.

17 Plants That Will Keep Squirrels From Eating Your Garden

Eliminate Food Sources and Shelter

dried corn ears
Image Credit: Hannes Grobe, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Eliminating nearby food sources and shelter will minimize squirrel attraction to your tomato plants. Clean up fallen tomatoes, rotting vegetables, and nuts daily. Also, prune bushes, trim overhanging branches, and clear out potential hiding spots to expose squirrels.

To further deter squirrels from your tomatoes, offer alternative food sources they prefer, such as corn cobs, sunflower seeds, or dried corn ears. Place these decoys away from your garden to divert their attention. Regularly check and refresh these alternative food sites to maintain their effectiveness.

Coffee Ground Barriers

Coffee grounds are poured at the feet of a plant.
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Used coffee grounds serve as an eco-friendly squirrel repellent. Spread the grounds around the perimeter of your garden to create a scent barrier that squirrels find unpleasant. Reapply after rain to maintain effectiveness. The caffeine and acidity in the grounds may also enrich the soil as they decompose.

For a more durable solution, fill large mesh bags with used coffee grounds and place them around your plants. These bags last longer, resisting washout from heavy rains and acting as a physical barrier. Squirrels are often confused by the presence of these unfamiliar sacks. Replace the bags every few weeks as they begin to degrade.

Dogs and Cats

Cute guard dog behind fence, barking.
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Use dogs as natural squirrel deterrents. Dogs actively chase away squirrels, while cats intimidate them with their presence and scent. Regular patrols by your pets can instill fear in local squirrels and alert you to their presence through barking or hissing.

Alternative Food Sources

squirrel-specific feeder
Image Credit: Tim Felce (Airwolfhound), CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

if a squirrel sees a bird feeder with its favorite treats—nuts and seeds—it might go for that instead of your tomatoes. you can buy a squirrel-specific feeder or set up your own DIY decoy food stations instead.  squirrel-friendly snacks include unsalted nuts, chopped apples, carrots, spinach, bean sprouts, and celery. 

Install Motion Sensor Lights

Motion detector outdoor lighting is mounted and ready to keep you safe.
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Motion-activated lights are an effective way to deter squirrels, as they typically avoid well-lit areas due to increased vulnerability to predators. Install motion sensor spotlights around your garden, targeting the areas near your tomato plants.

Unique Sounds

squirrel with tomato
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Squirrels are sensitive to noise, making startling sounds a practical deterrent. Install battery-powered ultrasonic repellers around your garden, which emit high-frequency sounds detectable only by squirrels when motion is detected. These sounds are irritating to them, although inaudible to humans.

Additionally, loud alarms or radios can also keep squirrels at bay. Configure motion detectors to trigger a loud horn, siren, or talk radio upon detecting a squirrel. Change the sounds periodically to prevent the squirrels from getting used to them. Position speakers so they direct sound towards the plants, ensuring that sudden noises effectively scare away potential garden intruders.

A Sprinkler System

Garden lawn water sprinkler system.
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Motion-activated sprinklers are a good way to keep squirrels away from gardens. When squirrels get close to tomato plants, the system sprays a quick burst of water, which deters them from returning. The surprise of being sprayed with water is effective at keeping squirrels from trying to snack on the tomatoes.

Provide a Water Bowl

squirrel on water fountain
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It is likely that some squirrels nibble on tomatoes not out of hunger but because they’re thirsty. Seeing only small bites on your tomatoes could indicate that the squirrels are looking for moisture. Placing a small water bowl near your garden can keep them hydrated and deter them from biting into your tomatoes.

Owl Decoy

owl decoy
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Just as gardeners use scarecrows to deter birds, owl decoys can be effective for keeping squirrels away. Squirrels are naturally afraid of owls, which are natural predators of rodents.

Applying Predator Urine

growing tomatoes
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Squirrels have a keen sense of smell that they use to detect predators. You can use this to your advantage by applying predator urine, such as from coyotes or foxes, around your garden. The scent triggers a fear response in squirrels, deterring them from the area.

Predator urine is available at many garden centers specifically for this purpose. For best results, spray the urine around your garden weekly and reapply after rain.

Using Fences and Cages as Barriers

tomato near fence
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Physical barriers such as fences and cages are effective in protecting tomato plants from squirrels. These barriers prevent squirrels from accessing ripe tomatoes and discourage their attempts to raid. There are various fencing and caging options available that use simple, cost-effective materials.

You can also build custom solutions tailored to your garden’s specific layout and the behaviors of local squirrels. Position these barriers to fully enclose the plants while still providing sufficient space for vine growth and fruit development.

How to Support Tomatoes: Tomato Stakes vs. Tomato Cages

Chilli Pepper Sprays

Chili peppers (also chile, chile pepper, chilli pepper, or chilli, Latin: Capsicum annuum) in the green garden. Red color peppers. Close up photo.
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Chili pepper spray, crafted from hot chili peppers, is an effective deterrent against squirrels targeting tomato plants. Squirrels are sensitive to capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, which they find unpleasant in both taste and smell. To make the spray, blend or process the chili peppers, mix with water, and then strain out the pulp before applying.

Apple Cider Vinegar Solutions

unfiltered, raw apple cider vinegar with mother - a small glass bowl with fresh red apples
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Apple cider vinegar, due to its pungent smell and tartness, is effective at deterring squirrels from tomato plants. To use this method, soak cotton balls in apple cider vinegar and secure them to plant stems with twist ties. The vinegar will diffuse through the air, repelling squirrels as they approach. Remember to replace the cotton balls periodically as the scent fades.

Additionally, you can place shallow dishes filled with cider vinegar around the perimeter of your garden. The strong odor of the vinegar acts as a deterrent, signaling to squirrels that the area is off-limits. Be sure to refill these dishes regularly, as their effectiveness can decrease with exposure to sunlight and moisture.

Related: Homemade Fruit Fly Trap with Apple Cider Vinegar

Plant More Tomatoes

supporting tomatoes with stakes or cages
Image Credit: Homestead How-To

It might be disappointing to hear, but it’s nearly impossible to completely stop squirrels from occasionally biting into your tomatoes. One practical approach is to plant a bit more than you need and accept sharing some of your garden’s bounty with them.

How to Identify if Squirrels Are Damaging Your Tomato Plants

Determining if squirrels are eating your tomatoes involves looking for specific signs. Here’s how you can tell:

  • Check for tomatoes with small, uneven bite marks, where only the flesh has been eaten. This nibbling pattern, where only small chunks are removed, typically indicates squirrel activity.
  • Squirrels often dig up young tomato seedlings, eating the roots and stems and leaving a mess behind. If your seedlings are uprooted and the stems appear chewed off, squirrels are likely to blame.
  • If ripe tomatoes disappear without a trace, squirrels are likely to be the cause. They can snatch tomatoes and consume them elsewhere, often leaving no evidence.
  • If you find chewed-up marks on tender branches and stems, this can indicate squirrels are nibbling on them.
  • Finding nut shells or remnants near your tomato plants suggests a squirrel presence. Squirrels often raid tomato plants by consuming nearby food sources, including nuts.

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